See my dreams before my eyes/ Shadows on the wall, I/ Ain’t got no place I can fall
Snowin’ in off the lake/ Punching holes in the dark/ Through the lonely streets of Roger’s Park
Now there’s a lyric that’s poetry in its own right. Punching holes in the dark? C’mon. Are you kidding me? But what makes Justin Townes Earle a brilliant songwriter isn’t the lyrics. It’s how he drops the bottom out of that second line, wrapping it around the chord progression and hammering down on the minor chord. And man, it hits like a sledgehammer. It’s brilliant despite my obsession with wraparound lyrics. There’s a loneliness between the first and second lines you wouldn’t otherwise have, and what do you get for it? Take a listen…
Harlem River Blues was released in 2010 when JTE was 28 years old. His previous album was released a year earlier, so we can assume he was writing these songs at the age of 26 or 27.
Lovers leave and friends’ll let you down/ But you’re the only sure thing that I’ve found/ No matter what I do I’ll never lose/ My old friend the blues
Runs in the family, eh? The way that Daddy Earle opens a trap door beneath that D chord in the next to last line, letting the D7 sway around…you don’t even realize that you’re the one hanging from the gallows. And then he resolves the final line with every songwriter’s favorite chorus-ender, the good ol’ IV-V-I turnaround, which isn’t exactly how Rogers Park ends, but sure as hell feels like it, if only for the way it leaves you floating in the air.
It’s haunting, truly. And apparently it’s something you’re born with.